March 7, 2021

Pages 2020-2024
Whole Number 103

Located near Nacogdoches, Texas

On September 18, 1976, the Historical Commission of Nacogdoches County, Texas, dedicated THE SPARKS HOUSE as a Texas State Historical Landmark. The house was originally built sometime between 1839 and 1851, however, there is no specific documentation which either pinpoints the date of its construction or the name of its builder. The house is presently owned and occupied by Captain and Mrs. Charles K. Phillips who moved it from its original location about five miles north of Nacogdoches to their tree plantation, "Llano Grande," about three miles south of Nacogdoches, just off the Press Road.

The Sparks House was owned and occupied from ca. 1851 until 1909 by Dr. John Marion Sparks, and after his death in 1909 the ownership and occupancy passed to his heirs. In 1971, Captain (USN) Phillips purchased it and began its restoration which took nearly five years. Most of the work of restoration was done by the Phillipses, and the only contract work was for the plumbing, air-conditioning, wall-papering, and chimneys.

The house is typical of the better constructed houses of the 1840-1850 period of East Texas. It consisted originally of two identical first-floor rooms (18' by 18') separated by a 12' open center hall, or dog-trot. Each room had a fireplace in the end wall. The second floor was a half-story with the walls slightly over four feet high. The fireplaces were built of stone and the chimneys were made of handmade bricks. The windows were long and narrow with nine panes in the top over six panes in the bottom section.

In 1884, Dr. Sparks made several changes in the house, adding three rooms as a wing to the rear of the house. All of these rooms had high ceilings which was fashion able for that period of time. The Phillipses have furnished the house with appropriate period pieces, many of which were made by Nacogdoches cabinet makers. Since November 1, 1976, the house has been the Phillipses' private home.

Designation of the house as a Texas Historical Landmark was made because of its age, construction features, and because of the contributions of the Sparks family to the Republic, the state, and to the community during their formative years.

Dr. John Marion Sparks

(Editor's note: John Marion Sparks was born June 26, 1831, in Lawrence County, Mississippi. He was a son of Richard and Elizabeth (Cooper) Sparks; a grandson of William and Mary "Polly" (Fielder) Sparks; and a great-grandson of Matthew and Sarah (Thompson) Sparks. See the June 1961, Whole No. 34 and the June 1965 issue of the Quarterly, Whole No. 50. In addition to John Marion Sparks, Richard and Elizabeth (Cooper) Sparks had eight other children: William Fielding (or Fielder) Sparks; James Hawkins Sparks; Elizabeth C. Sparks; Stephen Franklin Sparks; Sarah Jane Sparks; Mary Ann Sparks; Andrew Jackson Sparks; Thomas Benton Sparks. John Marion Sparks was the youngest child.

John Marion Sparks was about two years old when he was taken to Texas by his parents in January 1834. His father stopped first at San Augustine, but that fall he moved his family to what is now Nacogdoches County where, in November 1835, he bought a league (about 4440 acres) of land. There he and his brother, James Sparks, built a stockade which became known as the "Sparks Settlement." It was about this time that the settlers began preparing to revolt against the dictatorship of General Santa Anna, an action which was successful the following April. At that time, Richard Sparks was the alcalde, or mayor, of Nacogdoches; thus when Texas became a Republic he was the last alcalde of that community. He was killed by Indians in April 1838 while surveying land in what is now Navarro County. It appears quite likely that his brother, James Sparks, was also killed at the same time in the general Indian uprising.

John Marion Sparks grew to maturity while his mother was still living, but he was not quite seventeen years of age when she died on January 1, 1848. The following year, John became an apprentice to an English physician who lived in nearby Douglass, and after serving him for two years, he became a doctor. For the remainder of his life he practiced medicine, although he was also successful in managing the land which he had inherited from his parents.

On September 18, 1851, John married Martha Ann Cram. She was born August 23, 1832, in Tennessee and was an orphan daughter of William and Nancy Easom (Whitaker) Cram of Hudsonville, Mississippi. Martha Ann lived with her uncle, Ambrose Cram, just a few miles from the "Sparks Settlement". Two children were born to this marriage, William M. Sparks and Idora May Sparks.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, John Marion Sparks joined the Confederate States Army, serving in Company C, 2nd Regiment, 3rd Texas Brigade. He is said to have inoculated the first volunteers for military duty at the old Nacogdoches University Building. He returned to his medical practice at the close of the war.

Marthan Ann (Cram) Sparks died on January 5, 1883, and on April 8, 1884, John Marion Sparks married Elizabeth "Betty" Whitlow Hazle. She was born on February 7, 1861. Three children were born to this union: Johnnie May Sparks, Ethel Elizabeth Sparks, and Jewell Sparks.

In addition to his medical practice, Dr. Sparks had at least two business ventures. He established a company that manufactured and bottled a hair tonic which he had developed and had named "Dr. Sparks' Hair Vigor." This business was so successful that it lasted several years after his death under the management of a daughter, Mrs. Johnnie May Wyres. The other business venture was the acquisition of a franchise for the manufacture and sale of a water pump which was known as the "Direct Force Acting Pump."

In 1893, Dr. Sparks gave ten acres of land to the Old North Church for a church, school, and burying ground. He did this in order to carry out his father's wishes when, many years earlier, in 1837, his father had permitted the church to build on his land. The Old North Church is one of the oldest Protestant churches in Texas. Originally it was a non-denominational church, but eventually it became the Missionary Baptist Church.

Dr. Sparks died on April 17, 1909. His wife, Betty, died on October 9, 1935. He and his wives are buried in the Old North Church Cemetery. As indicated above, John Marion Sparks had five children: William Marion Sparks, son of John Marion and Martha Ann (Cram) Sparks, was born May 30, 1853, at Nacogdoches. On September 30, 1873, he married Eudora Coats at the home of her father by the Rev. Milstead. Eudora was born May 27, 1855 at Nacogdoches and was a daughter of Daniel and Harriet (Burrows) Coats. William died on March 28, 1922, in Concho County, Texas, and Eudora died there on February 27, 1931. They were the parents of seven children: Ina Marion Sparks, Thomas Benton Sparks, John Newell Sparks, Oscar Marion Sparks, Addie Pearl Sparks, Troy William Sparks, and James Grady Sparks. Idora May Sparks, daughter of John Marion and Martha Ann (Cram) Sparks, was born October 3, 1854. On June 16, 1870, she married John Greer Orton, a son of Sidney and Louise (Timberlake) Orton. Idora and John had seven children: Lelia W. Orton, Ida Orton, Mattie L. Orton, Greer Orton, Zula D. Orton, William T. Orton, and Joseph N. Orton. Johnnie May Sparks, daughter of John Marion and Betty Whitlow Hazle Sparks, was born May 8, 1885. She married Herman W. "Buster" Wyres. They had no children. Mrs. Wyres was an early member of the Sparks Family Association and died in the late 1950's. Ethel Elizabeth Sparks, daughter of John Marion and Betty Whitlow Hazle Sparks, was born November 24, 1888. She married W. F. Sheldon, a son of Zariah Sheldon, on November 25, 1909. They had one child, Agatha Sheldon. Jewell Sparks, daughter of John Marion and Betty Whitlow Hazle Sparks, was born May 27, 189?. She married B. Beth in February 1920 and they had one child, Carl E.Sparks.